From the non-stop tumult of breezy Geary Street, there's no indication of the whimsical surrealism that lies beyond the entrance to San Francisco's Clift hotel.
Ushered through the glass doors by a couple of smiling, low-key doormen, we find ourselves standing in the capacious lobby, wondering if we'd fallen down a rabbit hole and inadvertently discovered where Alice in Wonderland set up home when she grew up.
A bronze fireplace as tall as the average house is the centerpiece of the space and a carefully composed tableau of disproportionate sculptural furnishings are dramatically illuminated within it, including chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, a coffee table by Salvador Dali and a monumental Philippe Starck floor-standing lamp.
In collaboration with original boutique hotel innovator Ian Schrager, it was Starck who took the landmark 1913 Italian Renaissance hotel and redesigned its interior to better reflect the quirks of San Francisco itself. In a city where almost anything goes, it's no surprise to find that the bold themes of the lobby continue on into the atmospheric and magnificent Redwood Room bar and lounge, which pairs contemporary features with an understated aesthetic. Framed plasma screens hang from the polished wood panelling which clads the entire room (apparently crafted from a single Redwood tree) and beam experimental digital art into the peripheral vision of the city's hippest barflies.
Upstairs, however, is a different story - and it's one that begins in the elevators. The regimental row of mirrored lifts are dimly lit in soft sherbert shades - mint, lemon, lavender - and have a calming effect as they whizz you up to the sleek corridors of the upper floors and the relative minimalism of the guest rooms.
Dominated by huge custom-made English sycamore sleigh beds, the bedrooms are surprisingly pale and restful; a palette interrupted only by splashes of lilac, huge floor to ceiling mirrors, and a scattering of acrylic fizzy tangerine side tables. After the decorative richness of the hotel's public spaces, they're certainly easy-on-the-eye, and if you're lucky enough to snag one of the loft rooms, you'll feel positively serene as you pad about from bathroom to bedroom via the ample dressing space and study which sits between the two.
With the swanky Velvet Room restaurant and the Redwood Room bar a staple of San Francisco's style scene for many years now, you might expect the staff at the hotel to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude to its guests but nothing could be further than the truth, and we only received genuinely warm and helpful service from everyone we encountered - especially David Rice, the hotel's encylopaedic concierge who kindly allowed us to interrogate him for his San Francisco recommendations.
Out and About
If you stay here, you couldn't be better placed to explore the city if you tried. Turn right out the front door and just three blocks east, past the Curran and American Conservatory theatres, is Union Square, the home of the city's most prestigious stores including Macy's, Bloomingdales and Tiffany's. A brief walk north from there will take you to Chinatown - the oldest in north America and the largest outside of Asia - while a couple of blocks south along Powell Street will lead you to Market Street, the city's major thoroughfare and public transport hub. The junction of Powell and Market is where you can take San Francisco's famous cable car to Fisherman's Wharf or Ghirardelli Square.
Walk a few blocks north of the hotel along Taylor Street (beware - very hilly!) and you'll pass by beautiful Grace Cathedral and the swish neighbourhood of Nob Hill, renowned for its elegant architecture, affluent residents and interesting mix of coffee shops, vintage stores and stuck-in-time cocktail lounges.
The Clift hotel is a member of Morgans Hotel Group, a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partner. Flying Club members can earn miles with every stay, so if you haven't joined up yet, what are you waiting for! Here's all you need to know.
Virgin Atlantic operate daily flights to San Francisco from London Heathrow airport.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.